Diverse panel of local officials, utilities, economic developers, environmental consultants, and conservation organizations discuss benefits, challenges, and best practices for siting solar projects

Contact: Elena Brennan, elena@piper-communications.com, 865.329.0553

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (June 13, 2023) – The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) hosted a virtual webinar of over 100 attendees examining solar energy for economic development on Monday, June 12. Kim Raia, Environmental Management Consultant at the University of Tennessee County Technical Assistance Service, moderated the discussion between public and private partners about how to leverage solar energy to enable best land use and maximize economic impact and benefit to Tennessee communities.

Cortney Piper, Executive Director of TAEBC, opened with welcoming remarks. “Renewable energy is quickly becoming an economic and job creation catalyst for Tennessee communities,” said Piper. “Partnerships, placement, and community buy-in are key to enabling successful and equitable access to renewable energy projects such as solar installations. TAEBC is pleased to convene this expert panel to help our members, local elected officials, planning commissioners, economic development officials and state government agencies better understand how to maximize solar as an economic development tool.” 

The event featured a diverse panel of seven solar industry experts, community officials, consultants, and stakeholders. Craig Fitzhugh, Mayor of the City of Ripley, Terry Wimberley, President and CEO of the Paris Board of Public Utilities, and Kyle Spurgeon, President and CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce, provided insight and lessons learned from implementing commercial or utility-scale solar projects in their communities. 

Spurgeon and other panelists compared access to renewable energy such as solar installations to broadband access, citing solar’s potential to help communities attract, recruit, and retain businesses and jobs.

Gina Brown, Director of Economic and Community Development at Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corporation, provided a unique perspective representing one of the largest independent power producers in the country with a portfolio of more than four gigawatts of solar power. Also joining the panel was Lindsay Hanna, Director of Government Relations and Climate Policy at the Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and Madison Haynes, Associate at Bradley law firm, which specializes in energy development and financing. 

Speaking about what an economic development approach to solar energy looks like, Brown emphasized Silicon Ranch’s holistic approach to siting projects, giving the example of the 35-megawatt Vanderbilt I Solar Farm in Bedford County, a first-of-its-kind partnership under TVA’s nationally-recognized Green Invest Program, which matches demand for green power from business, industrial and organizational customers with utility-scale solar projects located within the Valley. 

Panelists spoke at length about the need to locate renewable energy projects to avoid impacts on sensitive natural and working lands. Hanna highlighted The Nature Conservancy’s new Power of Place report, which was designed to help energy planners and policymakers execute net-zero strategies that maximize benefits for nature and people. When locating solar projects, Hanna underscored the importance of viewing land use and conservation holistically – taking into account not just the land, but nearby natural forestry, wildlife habitats, and species of concern as well. 

Wimberly suggested that local power companies (LPCs) are well suited to help governments and developers locate the best areas for solar projects in order to maximize energy production and avoid land disturbances, noting that – as a general rule of thumb – ten acres of land are required for every megawatt of solar generation.

Zoning considerations and liability for decommissioning solar farms were also cited by panelists as potential challenges. Though lifespans of solar panels are about 40 years, panelists were optimistic that new technology focused on recycling, reusing, and repurposing equipment will help meet this critical infrastructure need. 

When asked for advice for local officials who are considering incorporating solar into their communities, panelists agreed that early, proactive engagement with all stakeholders – including residents and landowners – is key.

A link to the full recording is available here. To stay engaged with TAEBC, sign up for the TAEBC newsletter and event notices here and become a member today! 

About Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council  

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council (TAEBC) champions advanced energy as an economic development and job creation strategy. Advanced energy is technology neutral and includes electricity and transportation. Anything that makes energy cleaner, safer, more secure or more efficient is in the tent. No other entity in the state concentrates specifically on this robust sector. We educate public officials and business leaders about Tennessee’s advanced energy economy, establish strategic partnerships to connect assets with opportunities and inform policy that expands and strengthens the industry. TAEBC hosts the Energizing Tennessee podcast, which explores the latest news and insights about the advanced energy sector. For more information, visit tnadvancedenergy.com.